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Playtest results and thoughts...

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1 Playtest results and thoughts... on Sun Sep 05, 2010 1:50 am


I had first heard about Phylo back in its soft-launch. I am very impressed with how much it has grown and the well thought out rules (referring to 1.4).

When I showed the website to my four year old, she became quite enthused at the prospect of figuring out which things could eat other things. So we bit the bullet and printed out a wide variety of the cards. I concentrated on land based cards, avoided microorganisms, and mostly printed one of each. Except for plants which I duplicated to get the odds a bit better.

The first stumbling block I ran into was that it is a two player game, but three of us want to play it. Using card direction doesn't work with more than two players because with the tight packing there's only room for two facings on a rectangular card. Do they need to be rectangular? Square cards, for example, would provide the same gameplay but allow four players to coexist without problem.

I also wonder about hexagonal cards. The increased connectivity I think would result in more of a "web" of life rather than the limited chances for interconnects that are now present. But printing/cutting may be a lot more of an issue.

So, for the game itself, we made a few small changes to the rules.

First, and most importantly, we threw away the competitive element. This solved the facing problem since we didn't care who put the card down. We were just trying to build an ecosystem.

Second, while reading the cards before play, we became concerned at the "Food Chain" number. The requirement to eat a strictly lower food chain by one seems very restrictive. Any omnivore, for example, has at least a level of 2. But then level 3 carnivores can't eat them, which is feels very silly when the boa constrictor can't munch on a squirrel. But if it were a level 4, it wouldn't be able to eat horses any more as it is too far apart. Our solution was pretty simple - allow any of the level 3s to eat each other. This resulted in some very fun chains - plant -> bird -> giant spider -> ladybug -> another bird. I guess it does lose the idea of "energy" being lost as it goes up the pyramid, restricting top carnivores. And it might affect competitive games if people can do longer chains (but I think in those cases longer chains are already punished because it is too hard to recover from events)

Third, as suggested elsewhere here, we dropped the number of moves a turn to just one.

We didn't play with spreading or invasive rules as I didn't understand them.

For simplicity, we used a single draw deck and single discard deck. We played until dinner time, at which point our score was calculated by counting how many interesting stories we had about the game.

We played with our hands open so we could read the cards and moderate the rules.

I am happy to report that the game held up very well with these alterations. Trying to decide how to build out the ecosystem, and what fit where, was a lot of fun. One thing that worked well for our game is that there were very few card repeats. This made each placement of a 6/2 forest bird different since it was a different animal one was trying to play. I think this also fits the theme of biodiversity.

The big problem with a cooperative game, of course, is there is no reason to play negative event cards. I did anyways, because that is the sort of person I am, but for future games we will probably add a rule to cover this. Perhaps you'll be forced to play an event card on drawing it, good or bad.

When I did play the wild fire and knocked the base out of a huge food chain, we worked together to figure out how all the animals could save themselves. This was a very cool mechanic - it did feel like a massive migration as the ecosystem rebalanced itself. The birds that used to be the food of the giant spiders were now eating the giant spiders, for example. Since we didn't have the "three moves" to right the change, we instead played with the rule that each creature got to use its move to fix its position. We managed to actually save all the animals. The only casualty was the pitcher plant, as it could not move. It was still adjacent to a viable habitat, but its text says it is also carnivorous of insects, which we took to mean it had to be adjacent to such an insect, which it no longer was. (If it only requires the habitat, it would seem the carnivorous of insects is meaningless as to use the carnivore rule it needs the habitat anyways)

In summary:
1) Should the food chain # be kept? It seems sun/plant/omni=carni suffices?
2) Any other thoughts on multiplayer cooperative play? Zero-sum head-to-head mechanics don't seem a match to the theme...
3) What about hexagonal tiles?

Thank you very much again to the entire community for building such an amazing game.

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2 Re: Playtest results and thoughts... on Mon Sep 06, 2010 12:34 am

Lovely post. I think one of the joys of this game IS that you can take the cards and basic rules and adapt them to your target audience. Me, I like the idea that you can take your (older) class into the garden/park etc, take pictures of everything that you find and create a game based on your local environment. What I can see happening is having some 'core' rules, then a system of variants designed by assorted people. But then, children* like to make their own rules anyway!

1) Actually, I agree with you about the food number. The advantage is that gives a numerical as well as scientific/colour cue to which order things go.

2) See above

3) There are no plans to print the game, which means we are stuck with whatever people can do at home. Since card sleeves only come card-shaped I think we're stuck with oblong.

* OK, so not just children.

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3 Re: Playtest results and thoughts... on Wed Sep 08, 2010 10:35 am

I like this. Will see if we can include it in a future post. Might be especially good from an educational (in class) context.

If you get a chance to continue working on the nuts and bolts of the collaborative game then that would be cool!

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4 Re: Playtest results and thoughts... on Thu Sep 09, 2010 3:45 pm

i love the idea of a co-op game. kids can work together in the classroom, and then test their skills against each other at home!

i also like the idea of square cards. i think design and getting all of the info in would be a bigger issue than card sleeves, any idea of how it could be rearranged? maybe we're looking at an entire different game here!

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5 Re: Playtest results and thoughts... on Mon Sep 27, 2010 1:24 am

I did a whole BUNCH of playtesting earlier in the year and here's how we ended up chaining things together

1. Eat something ONE step smaller (as stated). If you're a herbivore, size is irrelevant. If you're a carnivore, you can eat something that a rank lower and the same size or smaller.
2. Eat two or more things that's food chain rank rank add up to the right amount of higher. Example: You've got a level 3 omnivore. he can eat two level 1 plants of any size instead of a rank 2.
Example 2: you're a level 4 Carnivore. You can eat two rank 2 creatures instead of a single rank 3.
3. Eat something the SAME rank, so long as you are BIGGER. Think of it like predators stealing a kill for each other. They're occupying same niche, but the bigger one can mooch off the smaller species.

(sorry for the vanishing from playtesting, the summer was insanely busy for me and work just completely ate all my free time)

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6 Re: Playtest results and thoughts... on Fri Oct 08, 2010 1:22 am

Just as a thought, might it help to give cards a range of prey sizes? This would put some restrictions on food chains but allow a greater variety of roles. For instance ladybugs couldn't live off birds or lions off mice, but there could still be snakes eating larger herbivores and whales eating plankton.

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7 Re: Playtest results and thoughts... on Thu Oct 21, 2010 7:34 pm

actinophrys wrote:Just as a thought, might it help to give cards a range of prey sizes? This would put some restrictions on food chains but allow a greater variety of roles. For instance ladybugs couldn't live off birds or lions off mice, but there could still be snakes eating larger herbivores and whales eating plankton.

They already have this. That is what the size attribute is. Carnivores (and omnivores feeding as carnivores) cannot eat things bigger than they are.

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8 Re: Playtest results and thoughts... on Fri Oct 22, 2010 4:31 am

Yes, but that leaves out a lot of details that seem like they would make more interesting cards. Humpback and sperm whales are both very large and live in similar habitats, but in truth are very different; one will live off krill and small fish but ignore giant squid, and the other will eat squid but starve on krill.

I understand trophic level is meant to handle this sorts of thing, but from what's written above it sounds like it doesn't make for very natural interactions by itself. Adding details for edible sizes seems like it would help while adding variety; it is of course only an untested suggestion.

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